President Bio added, “there was no enough reason why the Country suffered from the civil war, but if fighting is the last resort for the Commissions of Inquiry to progress and stop corruption in the country, then it is a rightful fight that we must do to ensure we eradicate thieving and embezzlement from politics,” he assured.
President Bio added that the Commissions of Inquiry were a genuine fight against alleged thieves and emphasised that it would not target any sect or tribe or region, but would investigate wicked people who had robbed the country of her resources.
To date, with about a week to the end of January, 2019, the exact date when the proposed three Commissions of Inquiry will start, has not yet been announced by the SLPP Government except that the public has been told “the Commissions of Inquiry will commence in January, 2019”.
The three Judges, one from Nigeria, one from Ghana and one from Sierra Leone, Justice Bankole Thompson, who is residing in the United States of America, have not yet arrived in Sierra Leone, even though accommodation has been reserved for them in the de ad west of Freetown. It is not known whether it is because of the controversies surrounding the setting up of the Commissions of Inquiry (COI) which are causing the delay in announcing the exact date of the much trumpeted Commissions of Inquiry, for which the Ministry of Finance recently provided more than two hundred million Leones for nationwide sensitisation down to the village communities.
It is interesting to note that the COIs have not yet commenced sittings and two government officials – the Director and his Deputy – in the Ministry of Information & Communications, which should conduct the sensitisation exercise, are in police custody while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating them for alleged embezzlement of the amount after the Minister of Information & Communications, Mohamed Swarray blew the whistle by reporting the matter to the ACC last week.
So much Controversy surrounds the setting up of the COI after Parliament passed the three Constitutional Instruments during the latter part of 2018 resulting in some Lawyers, Civil Society Organisations and other individuals questioning publicly in press statements, radio and TV discussions and published articles, the “legality” of the COIs.
The latest is the Constitutional legal luminary Charles Francis Margai who in an article published in a number of local newspapers Friday, January 18, 2019 under the banner headline “Margai Questions Legitimacy of Commissions of Inquiry”.
At a press conference held by Charles Margai Monday January 21, 2019, according to PREMIER NEWS publication Tuesday January 22, 2019, Charles Margai, Leader of the registered Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) political party, is reported to have stated, among other things, that “the Party also calls for the observance of the Provisions of Section 150 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No 6 of 1991 and to correct the errors, input and omissions in the three Instruments by taking onboard the above observations and to resubmit revised Constitutional Instruments to Parliament for approval.”
It will be recalled that Lawyer Charles Margai was among the first group of Cabinet Ministers President Bio appointed, as Minister of Justice & Attorney General, after the March 2018 General Elections: exactly two months after the appointment, President Bio replaced him with Dr. (Mrs) Priscilla Schwartz without giving any reasons leaving the public to speculate to this day, although it is believed that it was related to the setting up of the Commissions of Inquiry.
Charles Margai in his lengthy article questioning the legitimacy of the Constitutional Instruments establishing the COI to look into the alleged corrupt activities of the former government of President Ernest Bai Koroma from November 2007 to April 4, 2018, wrote, among other things, “having looked at the Constitutional Instruments Nos. 64, 65 and 67 of 2018, it is evident that in laying them before Parliament, the Executive usurped the powers reserved to the Rules of Court Committee as per Section 150 by incorporating in Section 6 of the said Instruments, the procedure that should regulate Commission’s proceedings.”
One regular local newspaper columnist, former Mayor of Freetown Winstanley Bankole Johnson wrote in a serialised article published in local newspapers last week, concluded his lengthy article as follows: “Ideally I suspect the delay to begin the Inquiries could well be that no Judge of International repute is prepared to expose to risk his/her earned reputation by presiding over Commissions of Inquiries where the Rules of Evidence do not apply. But I wait to see.”
Many commentators are calling on the Government to publish the Rules of Evidence to guide the COIs before the commencement of the Inquiries.
Even the Sierra Leone Bar Association has also made similar requests and a section of the Bar Association has even gone to the Constitutional Supreme Court of Sierra Leone for just that.
The main opposition political party, the All Peoples Congress (APC) of which former President Ernest Bai Koroma is the Leader and National Chairman has made it abundantly clear that it will not subject any public official who served during its ten year period of administration to a “kangaroo court Commission of Inquiry” without the Publication of the Rules of Evidence before the start of the COIs.
Charles Margai has even suggested that the period of the inquiry should also cover 2002 to 2007, the administration of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).
When all is said and done, it is unlikely that the Commissions of Inquiry will commence by 31st January, 2019.